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By Mary J. Johnson on July 12, 2022

Empanada By Any Other Name

Although there is no clear understanding of where Empanadas originated from or from what time frame in history, but some say they date back to Greek and Roman times, others, the Medieval Times, and yet others the early 13th century, some earlier some later. What we do know is as people migrate to different parts of the world, they bring with them a little bit from their culture of origin; hence the reason so many little burrows of ethnicity exist in cities around the world, Little Italy, China Town for example. In many of the cultures their version of a meat pie originated in the peasant class.

The word empanada means a baked or fried pastry filled turnover with savory ingredients. Around the world however even within countries and certainly continents, how they are prepared and what ingredients used differ. Most commonly, Empanadas are filled with meat and vegetables and the term Empanada specifically refers to those pockets of goodness from Spanish or Latin countries throughout the world.

In other parts of the world, they are known by many different names and many cultures have their own similar version of a hand pie or meat pie staple, made either as an appetizer or main meal today and served with various sauces for dipping. They can be enfolded or wrapped in prepared dough. Although not all are closed pockets of dough, some are prepared more traditionally with a bottom and top crust. Most common are the American Chicken Pot Pie or the British Shepherd’s Pie.

The closed dough hand pies can be either savory or sweet like their counterparts and are baked, fried, or boiled. Although most common are the half-moon shape, formed by rolling the dough and cut into circles, each filled and their edges crimped, they can also be rolled and formed into a rectangular shape or pinched like a small, gathered purse.

In many African nations they are simply called meat pies. In Eastern European countries like Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, they are coined Pierogies or Piroshki. In China, they are Dim Sum or Pot Stickers. Italy, Calzones. The French Canadiens refer to their meat pies as Toutiere. In Israel, they have Knish. The Lebanese call their meat pies, Sfeeha. The Greeks Kreatopia. Originally, dating back to Medieval times, their version of a meat pie was called Coffins.

Traditional fillings are minced meat, onions, often potatoes, carrots, and seasonings native to the various cultures. Various cultures also prepare their own dough, some more like bread, others like turnovers, and yet others flaky like phyllo or puffed pastry. Interestingly enough, the differences range greatly depending on the locale, what ingredients are available, and the flavors native to the culture.

Even between countries close in proximity or within a continent, the fillings differ greatly. The empanadas of Chili differ than the empanadas of Columbia. In Chili, their empanadas have raisins, hard boiled egg and black olives with beef among other ingredients. When I made the Chilean version, I wasn’t sure that combination would be tasty however quickly learned they were delicious and yet different from the Columbian version which uses onions, cilantro, peppers, potatoes, pork and beef and ginger.

Potstickers in China fall under a broader category called Dim Sum and refer to dumplings filled with pork, cabbage, carrots ginger amongst other ingredients. They are boiled and then pan fried and use wonton skins wrapped like small purses or even half-moon shaped. The Russian Piroshki is often filled with beef, garlic, and rice in a bread like dough and baked. They are typically larger and considered a main meal. The Polish Pierogies are filled with various ingredients, such as mashed potatoes and onion or a meat mixture then boiled, fried and served with sour cream.

No matter where you go in the world, you can find a version of the Empanada, a treat in any language.

Published by Mary J. Johnson July 12, 2022